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Get to Know a Pro: How Justin Van Leeuwen “protects” his work online—Part 2

This image, taken for my client Mediastyle is theirs to use. Twitter Avatars, website, sent into a magazine for a bio – I don't care – it's theirs to use and that's how I like it.

Our friend, Ottawa photographer Justin Van Leeuwen, is a member of the CanvasPop Pro Community and is sharing his insights on “protecting” your photos online.  Here’s part 2 of his 3-part series (check out the first post). 

Another way you can protect your images from being used is post such a low resolution image that it just can’t be printed. Usually this is in the 400 pixel 72ppi range or lower, which defeats my goal of getting my images online to show them off. Screens are getting bigger and if not by physical dimensions, than by pixel size, which means your 400 pixel image is now half as big on that new fancy high-def screen. What good is a photo if nobody can make out its content?

Yet another method of controlling image use is by embedding them within a flash-based website. This has the advantage of displaying the images large and lovely without the ease of theft from conventional websites and a left click/download from a mouse. Of course that doesn’t stop someone from doing a screen capture, and your site won’t work on a steadily growing user base of iDevices – 172 Million and counting. So yeah, you’re controlling your images right into obscurity by ostracizing a hefty market. You’re saying “if you own an iPad, I don’t want your business.”

Many professional photographers need to monitor and control the licensing of their copyrighted images to their own clients. They’ve licensed the image to the client for a particular use and need to make sure that any further prints or use is controlled by them, the photographer. It could be a wedding photographer selling prints of the bride and groom, or an editorial photographer managing licensing to various publications. While this has been—and continues to be—an important income stream for photographers everywhere, I will argue that there’s a paradigm shift in the way that we professional photographers have to do business.

Many clients don’t know, want, or care about rights. They just want the photo and want to use it on their iPads, computers, TVs and even on their wall in print. Corporate clients want to use an image on their website, maybe on a few different pages, and maybe they want to use it again in a blog post in a year. They do not want to keep going back to the photographer to buy the image to use again. In fact, they probably won’t, they’ll either re-use it, begging for forgiveness later, or forgo the use of the image and photographer altogether.

NOT using my image isn’t exactly what I have in mind when I do work for a client, so I’ve priced most of my work in a way that licenses my clients broader usage, while still keeping copyright for myself and a living income. It’s helped me build friendly relationships with clients by producing images that have a more long-term value to them. I’m in the business of taking photographs and building relationships, not policing my clients. That’s my choice—if you have a business model dependent on nobody using your images but yourself, then you might want to re-think even putting them online at all. Again, if someone wants to steal your photograph, they will. Some people won’t even consider it stealing.

What do you think? How do you control your photos with your clients?

Check out Part 3 of Justin’s series.

Justin Van Leeuwen is a Portrait & Commercial photographer based in Ottawa, Ontario. He spends too much time on twitter as @justinvl and also blogs large images that you can probably steal on his blog at